Foods made from Genetically Modified (GM, or GMO) crops are at the center of a heated political battle in the United States. Regardless of your opinions on GMO food safety, nobody can deny that the heavy use of herbicides and insecticides goes hand-in-hand with growing GMO crops. Perhaps the most troubling thing about GMO foods has nothing to do with the food itself, but rather what is sprayed on it.
The herbicide glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup® and other popular weed killers, is used heavily on GMO crops. In fact, “Roundup-Ready” crops are genetically modified to survive being sprayed with glyphosate, so that the spray only kills the weeds. The trouble is, glyphosate cannot be easily removed from foods after it is applied. And mounting evidence suggests that this popular herbicide negatively alters the balance of the microbiome, the healthy flora in the human gut.
Glyphosate linked to promoting harmful gut bacteria
One study on the gut flora of poultry has confirmed glyphosate is toxic to the beneficial gut bacteria, including Enterococcus, Bacillus and Lactobacillus species1. This study showed that the friendly bacteria are the most susceptible to glyphosate, however, disease-causing strains of bacteria, including Clostridium and Salmonella, are very resistant to glyphosate. When healthy gut flora are killed, disease-causing flora often overgrow, leaving the door open for Clostridium infections and other health imbalances.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, an increase in Clostridium botulinim growth associated with cattle diseases has been seen in Germany. As in poultry, healthy gut flora helps prevent Clostridium overgrowth in cattle because healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus and Enterococcus species produce toxins that inhibit these pathogens. This is part of Nature’s checks and balances. The German study also reported that glyphosate disrupted healthy Enterococcus gut bacteria in cattle. The study proposes that glyphosate is a significant factor in the rise of Clostridium infections in cattle2.
The makers of Roundup insist that glyphosate is nontoxic to mammals, based on a few short-term animal feeding studies, and therefore Roundup must not be a problem for people too. Because GMO crops are widely consumed by people in the U.S., there is a great need for long-term studies on humans who eat GM foods, which have never been performed.
The gut is one of the most important body systems when it comes to natural immunity, making up 80% or more of ones natural immune strength. When it comes to preventing skin or gut infections, having a healthy gut is of the utmost importance.
Is glyphosate herbicide acting like an antibiotic?
With the emergence of animal studies demonstrating disrupted gut flora with glyphosate ingestion, it’s easy to see that glyphosate is acting like an antibiotic (a substance that inhibits or kills bacteria). However, herbicide industry spokespersons and Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, have in the past denied that glyphosate acts as an antimicrobial, and that it’s only an herbicide. However, recent evidence indicates otherwise.
In 2010, Monsanto applied for a patent for using glyphosate as an antimicrobial agent3. This patent describes the use of glyphosate against pathogenic infections through a process of microbial enzymatic inhibition. Since Monsanto is claiming glyphosate can inhibit microorganisms, they are in essence saying that glyphosate can act as an antibiotic. Because of this patent, it’s obvious Monsanto is aware of glyphosate’s antibacterial properties.
In summary, glyphosate is an antibacterial agent, or antibiotic if you prefer, that is sprayed on the majority of GM food crops that both animals and people eat here in the United States. When ingested, this compound causes an overgrowth of pathogenic strains of Salmonella and Clostridium in animals, and a depression of immune supporting bacteria. With rates of inflammatory bowel disease doubling in people in recent years, Clostridium difficile infection rates rising, and new long term glyphosate animal studies showing similar trends, it appears that the “smoking gun” may have been found as to what’s behind this rise in inflammatory bowel diseases, including C. difficile infections.
In my next blog post, you’ll learn more about the other potential health risks of glyphosate and GMO foods and what you can do to avoid these risks.
- Shehata AA, Schrödl W, Aldin AA, Hafez HM, Krüger M. Curr Microbiol. The effect of glyphosate on potential pathogens and beneficial members of poultry microbiota in vitro. Current Microbiology, 2013 Apr;66(4):350-8. doi: 10.1007/s00284-012-0277-2. Epub 2012 Dec 9.
- Krüger M, Shehata AA, Schrödl W, Rodloff A. Glyphosate suppresses the antagonistic effect of Enterococcus spp. on Clostridium botulinum Anaerobe. Anaerobe, 2013 Apr;20:74-8. doi: 0.1016/j.anaerobe.2013.01.005. Epub 2013 Feb 6.
- US Patent 7771736: “Glyphosate formulations and their use for the inhibition of 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase”